President Bush today called for greater international support in the war on terrorism and declared America's determination to "destroy terrorist networks wherever they operate" while promoting democracy in the Middle East as bulwarks against them.

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Bush also presented an optimistic picture of what he described as the advance of freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he urged members of the world body to support those nations as they move toward elections and permanent democratic governments.

His opponent in the Nov. 2 presidential election, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, charged later in a news conference that Bush "failed to level with the world's leaders" at the United Nations today and "does not have the credibility to lead the world."

While devoting much of his 30-minute address to the fight against terrorism and a defense of U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush also advanced an agenda dedicated to spreading "human dignity" worldwide in efforts ranging from resisting AIDS to relieving Third World debt. He called for an international ban on human cloning and proposed establishing a new "democracy fund" within the United Nations to help countries institute the rule of law and hold free elections.

Addressing the opening session of the General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting, a gathering that draws dozens of heads of state, Bush said every peace-seeking nation has an obligation to help build a freer world and fight terrorism.

"Eventually there is no safe isolation from terror networks or failed states that shelter them or outlaw regimes or weapons of mass destruction," Bush said. "Eventually there is no safety in looking away, seeking the quiet life by ignoring the struggles and oppression of others."

He said the world needs to define security in a new way based on the promotion of human rights.

"These rights are advancing across the world," he said. "And across the world, the enemies of human rights are responding with violence."

Bush referred to several recent terrorist attacks, including a hostage-taking in a school in Beslan in southern Russia that resulted in hundreds of deaths.

"All civilized nations are in this struggle together, and all must fight the murderers," Bush said. "We're determined to destroy terror networks wherever they operate, and the United States is grateful to every nation that is helping to seize terrorist assets, track down their operatives and disrupt their plans."

Before the president spoke, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan opened the General Assembly's meeting with a plea for member nations to respect the rule of law at home and abroad. He specifically denounced terrorist brutality against civilians in Iraq, violent repression of the Darfur population in Sudan, and the killing of civilians by both Palestinian suicide bombers and Israeli security forces. But he also included veiled references to the United States, suggesting that nations promoting human rights around the world must practice what they preach.

"Today the rule of law is at risk around the world," Annan said. "Again and again we see laws shamelessly disregarded."

Mentioning what he said were "only a few flagrant and topical examples," Annan said, "In Iraq we see civilians massacred in cold blood, while relief workers, journalists and other noncombatants are taken hostage and put to death in the most barbarous fashion."

In an apparent reference to the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees by U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, Annan added, "At the same time we have seen Iraqi prisoners disgracefully abused."

Among the leaders attending the session were the Iraqi interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, and the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai.

Bush later met with Allawi, who is to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress in Washington this week and speak before the U.N. General Assembly on Friday.

At a photo opportunity with the Iraqi leader, Bush referred to the beheading of an American civilian contractor, Eugene Armstrong, by an insurgent group in Iraq and told Allawi, "We will not allow these thugs and terrorists to decide your fate and to decide our fate."

Allawi said, "The war now in Iraq is really not only an Iraqi war, it's a war for the civilized world to fight terrorists and terrorism. And there is no route but the route of winning."

In response to a reporter's question, Bush spoke dismissively of a recent CIA intelligence estimate that painted a gloomy portrait of conditions in Iraq. CIA analysts "were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like," Bush said, adding, "The citizens of Iraq are defying the pessimistic predictions" and heading toward free elections.

Bush also heaped scorn on remarks yesterday by Kerry, who blasted the administration's Iraq policy in a speech at New York University.

Asked about Republican senators who have expressed alarm about the situation in Iraq, Bush said, "We agree that the world is better off with Saddam Hussein sitting in a prison cell. And that stands in stark contrast to the statement my opponent made yesterday when he said that the world was better off with Saddam in power. I strongly disagree."

Democrats have accused the Bush campaign of distorting Kerry's words.

In yesterday's speech, the Massachusetts senator said, "Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell. But that was not, in itself, a reason to go to war. The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: we have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."

Kerry defended those remarks today in his press conference while campaigning in Florida. "What the president needs to do is address the realities of Iraq," he said.

Kerry added, "The president really has no credibility at this point, and he has no credibility with foreign leaders. . . . The management of this war has been both arrogant, lacking in candor and incompetent, and we need to change the course."

In today's speech in New York, Bush said U.N. members must apply their ideals "to the great issues of our time" and embrace a broader goal of promoting "hope and progress as the alternatives to hatred and violence."

Saying that "our great purpose is to build a better world beyond the war on terror," Bush highlighted U.S. efforts to fight AIDS in Africa and to combat "the evil of trafficking in human beings" around the world.

He urged support for a Costa Rican resolution calling for a comprehensive U.N. ban on human cloning, a resolution that he said the world body would consider during this year's session. He said all governments should affirm a basic ethical principle: "No human life should ever be produced or destroyed for the benefit of another."

Bush also emphasized a "global peace operations initiative" proposed by the United States and Italy to train 75,000 peacekeepers, initially from Africa. And he called on the Sudanese government to "stop the killing in Darfur," where African inhabitants are under what the United States calls a genocidal attack by Arab Sudanese militiamen.

Speaking more broadly, Bush held up the advantages of democracy and said peaceful nations must promote it.

"When it comes to the desire for liberty and justice, there is no clash of civilizations," Bush said. "People everywhere are capable of freedom and worthy of freedom."

He insisted that "freedom is finding a way in Iraq and Afghanistan" and said the world must show its commitment to democracies in those nations.

"As members of the United Nations, we all have a stake in the success of the world's newest democracies," he said.

Although "the work ahead is demanding" in both Iraq and Afghanistan, "the proper response to difficulty is not to retreat; it is to prevail," Bush said.

"And today I assure every friend of Afghanistan and Iraq and every enemy of liberty, we will stand with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq until their hopes of freedom and security are fulfilled," he vowed.

As he has in numerous speeches during his reelection campaign, Bush pledged that "these two nations will be a model for the broader Middle East."

He said his proposal today of a U.N. "democracy fund" was "a great calling for this organization" and would help countries establish independent courts, a free press, political parties and trade unions, as well as set up polling places and support election monitoring. He said the United States would make "an initial contribution," but he did not immediately provide details.

"I'm confident that this young century will be liberty's century," Bush told the gathering, which responded at the end of his speech with polite applause.

In warning that the rule of law is under threat around the world, U.N. Secretary General Annan alluded to recent atrocities in the Middle East, Africa and Russia.

"No cause, no grievance, however legitimate in itself, can begin to justify such acts," he said. "They put all of us to shame."

He added later: "Every nation that proclaims a rule of law at home must respect it abroad. And every nation that insists on it abroad, must enforce it at home." In a similar vein, without mentioning any nation by name, he said, "Those who seek to restore legitimacy must themselves embody it. And those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it."

Annan has said that the U.S. invasion of Iraq last year was "illegal," but he made no specific reference to that view in today's speech.